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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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General Reconnaissance Squadron Baffin NZ152 Fl/Lt. Arthur Darvall Poulton

Operation: Training

Date: 05th February 1940 (Monday)

Unit: Christchurch General Reconnaissance Squadron

Type: Blackburn Baffin

Serial: NZ152

Code: -

Base: RNZAF Wigram

Location: Waimairi Beach, Christchurch

Pilot: Fl/Lt. Arthur Darvall Poulton NZ/2523 RNZAF Age 41. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: AC1. William James Reynold Strachan A/539071 RNZAF Age 34. Killed

Wireless Electrical Mechanic: AC1. Douglas Haig Birbeck A/539003 Age 23. Killed


Aircraft history:

Originally built as Ripon Mk.IIA and previously S1430 with Fleet Air Arm coded '83'. Arrived in Auckland on the 'Napier Star' in mid November 1937 and barged to Hobsonville for assembly at No.1 Aircraft Depot, Hobsonville. Written off books at Rongotai in 1941 as reduced to produce.

Fatal Crash Described Airmen’s Deaths In Sea Evidence At Inquest - 20th February 1940:

The Baffin bomber which crashed into the sea at Waimairi beach on February 6 was in perfect order according to technicians and observers who saw it up to within a few minutes of the disaster. They, gave-evidence to this effect yesterday morning at the inquest into the deaths of the three men who were killed which was held before the Coroner (Mr E.C. Levvey, S.M.).

The findings of the Coroner were that the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Arthur Darvall Poulton, died from a fractured skull and laceration of the brain. Air Gunner William James Reynolds Strachan from a broken neck, and Aircraftsman (First Class) Douglas Haig Birbeck from shock, all following the crash of the bomber at Waimairi beach. The injuries received by the men. were described by Dr. F.L. Scott, who examined the bodies for the police. He could not, attribute the immediate cause of death in the case of Birbeck, but Dr. A. B. Pearson, pathologist at the Christchurch Hospital, stated that from a postmortem examination conducted at the request of the Coroner, he found that Birbeck had died from shock, although he had other injuries.

Views of the Crash:

Lloyd Randall, who was working near the beach at the time of the crash, said he. saw the aeroplane make a wide turn back over the beach after taking part in exercises along the shore and then, as it was crossing the brush hedge on the foreshore, the wings dipped and it dived into the sea. There was no explosion. He sent for medical help and went to render first aid. The machine was wavering from side to side and two of the occupants appeared to be adjusting something said William Watson who was also working near the beach. Herbert Henry Dunkley said he also noticed the wobble. The engine was turning over slowly all the time, although it did not appear to be misfiring. John Hugh Clucas Davies, another worker on reserves nearby, also described how the bomber plunged into the sea soon after crossing the beach.

George Wyllie and James Timbrell said that they had been fishing at the Waimakariri river, and on their return saw the Air Force men on the beach, apparently carrying out operations in conjunction with the aeroplanes.

Explosion Heard:

There was an explosion and then the machine dived into the sea, Wyllie said. Timbrell said there was a little explosion and smoke appeared from the rear of the aeroplane while there was a burst of flame at the front.

Above L-R: Fl/Lt. Arthur Poulton, AC1. William Strachan and AC1. Douglas Birbeck

Officers and men from Wigram, who were engaged in the exercises which they said were dropping messages to ground parties, attended the inquest and gave their version of the accident. Flight Lieutenant Edward Silverthorne Henderson, who was in charge of the party on the beach, said that the men in the bomber had completed their manoeuvre and were flying at about 1000 feet when it nose-dived for about 500 feet and then went into a complete spiral turn. He could not remember if the engine cut out and so far as he could see there was no reason for the crash. The men were in good health that morning, and he had spoken to Poulton.

The bomber which crashed, had been used on two previous flights that morning and everything seemed to be in order, said Flight Lieutenant Albert Charles Parson who took part in the flying exercises. He-said he flew over the beach to drop messages and left to return to Wigram when he saw Poulton’s machine coming up. Everything then appeared normal.

In Perfect Order:

It was all in good order when it left the ground at 11.25 a.m.” said Joseph Richard Gerard Waldermoath, a rigger at Wigram, who said he checked fabric, pins, wires and other equipment that morning, a check which should safeguard the machine for 24 hours. The two officers who flew the bomber before Poulton had no complaints to. The engine was in perfect order, said Henry Alfred Beazley, the fitter who tested the engine of the bomber. He said he made the usual thorough overhaul that morning and then started the motor when Poulton was about to take off. Everything was then in perfect order.

Air Gunner Norman Lewis Augustus Howard, who was in the beach party said the engine was going until it hit the water, when there was a muffled explosion. When he swam out to the wreckage there was no sign that any part had been defective before the crash.

There was an explosion which might be attributed either to the explosion of the petrol tanks or to the crash, said Air Gunner Allan Robert Osment. Mr G.T. Weston appeared for Mrs Poulton and Sergeant J. Mclntosh conducted proceedings for the police.

Burial details:

Fl/Lt. Arthur Darvall Poulton. East Eyreton Cemetery. Born on the 13th June 1898. in Opawa, Christchurch. Educated at Christchurch College. Worked as a farmer prior to service. Joined the RAF in London on the 05th December 1918. After returning to New Zealand in 1919 he joined the NZTAF on the 19th November 1923. Son of John James Arthur Poulton (died 1952, age 83) and of Eva Fanny Poulton (née Horning - died 1953). Husband of Janet Mabel Poulton (née Dixon - died 16th April 1989, age 85), of 'Byrewell', West Eyreton, Canterbury, New Zealand

AC1. William James Reynold Strachan. Roxburgh Cemetery. Grave 201.1. Born on the 10th September 1905 in Dunedin. A self employed wood merchant prior to service. Left NZ army after 3 years to join the RNZAF in July 1939. Son of George Strachan (died 05th March 1944, age 65) and Williamina Catherine “Mina” Strachan (née Weatherall - died 22nd January 1971, age 87) of Roxburgh, Otago, New Zealand.

AC1. Douglas Haig Birbeck. Christchurch Cemetery (Waimairi). Grave 48.3. Born on the 19th September 1916 in Petona. Educated at Christchurch Technical College. Worked as an electrician for Beatty Brothers Ltd in Christchurch. Enlisted in the RNZAF on the 04th September 1939. Son of John Richard Samuel Birbeck (killed in Belgium on the 28 December 1917, age 28), and of Annie jean Birbeck (later Odlum), of 435 Barbadoes Street, St. Albans, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand.

Above L-R: Rear; George Carter, Arthur Darvall Poulton NZ/2523D, Robert Blair Reynolds 182720, Donald Edward Grigg NZ/1139, John Joseph Busch NZ/1132, FW Petre, TM Wilkes, James Russell Richardson, ES Henderson, N Roake.
Front; JC Mercer, Hugh Bartholomew Burrell 1007, William Leonard Harrison NZ/41726, James Lloyd Findlay NZ/1004, KWJ Hall, N Barlow, William Gordon Coull 182587.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to the extensive research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, New Zealand Cenotaph, Weekly News of New Zealand, Air Museum of New Zealand, Museum of Transport and Technology, Auckland, Wings Over New Zealand. Papers Past of New Zealand.

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